As a technology-law blogger, I monitor emerging developments in information technology. What’s hot in IT today? Any short list would have to include social media, mobile, wearable technology, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and Big Data.
That list is all over the map, right? So, what’s the connection between, say, social media and the IoT? Or wearable tech and cloud computing?
Here’s my theory: They all reflect the ceaseless drive by businesses to collect, store and exploit ever more data about their customers. In short, those technologies are ultimately about selling more stuff to us.
With this unifying theory in mind, one sees how seemingly disparate technologies complement one another. And the challenges and risks they pose become clear.
Let’s start with the collection of consumer data. When we use the Internet, marketers are tracking our activities; the data generated by our online behavior is harvested and used to target ads that will be more relevant to us.
If we spend time on movie sites, we’re more likely to see ads promoting new film releases. If we visit food blogs, we’re going to be served ads selling cookware.
From the marketer’s perspective, social media and mobile are all about expanding the amount and type of customer data that can be collected.
Creepy? It can be. But such tracking and targeting make it possible for many website operators to offer online content and services for free. Many believe that such tools are essential to the vibrancy of our Internet eco-system. (Although GoogleGOOG, +1.66% is reportedly experimenting with an offering where one could pay not to see ads while surfing the Web.)
In the past, serious limitations existed on the ability of marketers to track our preferences. We might have given our name, e-mail and home address to a website; now, with social media, we routinely volunteer loads of personal information: our jobs, hobbies, special skills, taste in music or comedians, influencers, even our “relationship status.” As a result, successful social-media companies have compiled huge databases about us — in Facebook’s FB, +3.74% case, nearly 1.4 billion of us.
Also, not long ago, we surfed the Web from either home or office, limiting our online lives to a physical location or workstation. Now we access the Web from anywhere and mobile devices can pinpoint our location, even when we’re not browsing. Marketers can track our daily journey from home to work and back again, even serving us “just in time” discount offers as we pass a clothing store or restaurant.
From the marketer’s perspective, social media and mobile are all about expanding the amount and type of customer data that can be collected. Thanks to mobile apps, tracking and targeting are no longer desk-bound and can occur even if a customer isn’t connected to the Internet.